LAS VEGAS – Miguel Cotto has a list of victories that could serve as a roster of some of the greatest fighters of the first 10 years of the 21st century.
Not many would add Ricardo Mayorga to that list, and Cotto's 12th-round technical knockout victory Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden won't be remembered among his many epic wins.
But Cotto, who retained the World Boxing Association super welterweight belt when Mayorga turned to referee Robert Byrd at 53 seconds of the final round and said he had had enough, had to work hard for the victory before 7,247 against the often-overlooked Nicaraguan.
Mayorga wasn't lying when he said prior to the fight that he had trained as hard to meet Cotto as he had in any of his previous 38 bouts. And though Cotto led 107-102 on the scorecards of all three judges at the time of the stoppage, it wasn't easy and the victory was as attributable to the improvements he's made in the last year working with trainer Emanuel Steward as much as anything else.
Cotto, who is one of the game's best brawlers, has long been underrated as a pure boxer, as he proved in bouts with the likes of Shane Mosley and Zab Judah. But Steward tightened his defense even more and Cotto's ability to jab, slip under Mayorga's shots and deliver punishing counters were all key to his victory.
"I'm getting better every day and he's an awesome trainer," Cotto said of Steward.
He needed everything he learned from Steward on Saturday as Mayorga looked as good as he has in years. Mayorga is a former two-division champion and has two wins over the late Vernon Forrest, but his career has been largely a disappointment.
Had Mayorga trained seriously throughout his career and worked to improve his weaknesses, he might have been one of the elite fighters of his era. He's quick, has a solid chin and punches hard.
More often than not, though, Mayorga cut corners or ignored training completely. He got by mostly on natural ability and guts.
"I left Ricardo before, not because he wasn't a potentially great fighter, but because he started to go around people I didn't like," trainer Al Bonanni said of Mayorga. "… Had he trained and worked, he would have gone down as one of the great fighters, one of the great Latin fighters, of his era. But, you know, that's how it is."
Mayorga, though, summoned everything he had on Saturday and fought at a brisk pace that forced Cotto to be sharp. Cotto moved his head, picked off punches and did a lot of slick moves on the inside to avoid danger as Mayorga was winging overhand shots.
Mayorga began to lose steam off his punches as the fight went down the stretch, largely because Cotto kept punishing him with a stiff jab that closed his right eye by about the seventh round.
"I tried to follow the plan we made in Miami with Manny," Cotto said. "The plan, and the whole fight, was perfect."
The win likely will move Cotto into a rematch with Antonio Margarito in July, either at the New Meadowlands Stadium or in Las Vegas, promoter Bob Arum said. Margarito stopped Cotto in the 11th round in a sensational 2008 fight, but Cotto later became suspicious of the fighter when Margarito was caught with an illegal knuckle pad in his hand wraps a few months later before a bout with Mosley.
Cotto clearly is not thrilled with Margarito and, when Margarito came to the dais and shook hands, Cotto stared straight ahead with a stern look and didn't acknowledge Margarito.
However, one of the things that has defined Cotto's career has been his willingness to take on anyone. And while he clearly has little use for Margarito personally, he won't allow his dislike for him to stand in the way of what would be a big event.
"It's not up to me who I fight," Cotto said. "That's why I have a promoter, Bob Arum, and I always leave it up to him. I'll fight whoever he decides."
Cotto improved to 16-2 in world title fights and, by stopping Mayorga, now has wins over 12 current or former champions.
He closed the show in style on Saturday, catching Mayorga with a blistering left hook that sent Mayorga stumbling down. Mayorga quit seconds later and it was reported by Don King Productions officials that he had dislocated his thumb.
Mayorga failed to attend the postfight news conference, but he did an interview in the ring with Showtime's Jim Gray following the bout. Mayorga spoke in Spanish, but according to Spanish speakers who heard it, Mayorga said, "I felt pain in my finger and if I can't continue to fight, it's better to lose the fight than your life."
He probably wasn't close to losing his life, but he had taken a beating from Cotto, who was as sharp and as accurate as always.
Mayorga was probably as good as he has been since a 2003 win over Forrest, but Cotto is so professional that he dispatched him cleanly with minimal problems.
"Mayorga was much, much tougher and in better condition than I expected," Steward said. "It's very difficult to get away from some of those punches when he lunges at you from so many angles. Miguel operated behind the jab and never did get into the mind games and basically was winning the fight with the jab."
It's only one of the ways Cotto can win. That versatility is why he's been at or near the top of the list of the world's greatest fighters for the last 10 years.
The good news is that there is still a lot more to come.